Clegg, Cable face an angry Lib Dem mob in Liverpool
The Mole: 'I am not a Tory' is not enough. Look for first signs of the party factions going their separate ways
It's a shame the Pope isn't making a Liverpool stopover on his current tour. If anyone could do with a quick blessing, it's the Lib Dems, whose annual party conference starts on Merseyside tomorrow.
The party website offers a seemingly innocuous summary of the upcoming attractions.
The leader's keynote speech, normally reserved for the last day, has been moved forward to Monday because Nick Clegg will be representing the country (wow!) at the UN in New York on Wednesday.
Instead, the go-forth-and-multiply speech will be given by Vince Cable, after which there'll be "an opportunity to question" Liberal Democrat Cabinet ministers. Sandals will be worn, muesli will be eaten.
Oh yes? If only it was all going to be this comfortable.
Here's the Mole's version of the agenda. Nick Clegg will be thanking his lucky stars he's got the perfect excuse to leave the country after his Monday address when he is likely to repeat the mantra he fell back on in a Mumsnet encounter yesterday: "I'm not a Tory".
One contributor to the site - calling herself Cupcakesandbuntin - said: "If I'd wanted to be dragged kicking and screaming back into Thatcherism, I'd have voted Cameron. Turns out I and many of my friends and family voted Clegg and got dragged back to Thatcherism anyway."
Clegg, who never knows when to give up, replied: "Let me be clear, this is nothing like the 1980s. Then whole communities and industries were gutted. I'm an MP from a great northern city - Sheffield - and I know that people there and across the country fear the spectre of the 1980s. But we are doing things very differently."
Oh yes? This came on the same day that he wrote a piece for the Times calling for a radical review of welfare benefits, saying the state's job was not to write "a giant cheque" to "compensate the poor for their predicament".
No, but the Mumsnet crowd - and many of the Lib Dems gathering in Liverpool - would like to be reassured that the occasional small cheque will still be available.
The fact is that countless think tanks and earnest academic bodies have now stated very clearly that the coalition government's public spending cuts will hit the poor disproportionately.
And there is no escaping the fact that, in exchange for seats at the Cabinet table, the Lib Dem leaders have signed up to the Osborne programme.
What about Vince Cable? The Mole imagines he will be scratching his head all weekend over that Wednesday speech. How on earth is he going to explain to the party faithful his continued service in a government he appears to loath?
Only this week he has been forced to admit to the Financial Times that he is out on a limb with Conservative thinking on the temporary immigration cap. He says it's damaging to British business and he knows companies that are considering moving abroad because they cannot recruit the staff they need here.
In a sense, this was Cable's "I am not a Tory" cry - an attempt to prove to party members ahead of Liverpool that he and the boys in the Cabinet don't think the same way as the Conservatives.
The question they'll want answering in Liverpool, however, is not whether they are different, or are thinking differently - but can they truly make a difference?
For the Liberal wing of the party, there's not nearly enough evidence that they are doing so thus far. Those members feel betrayed and, with the thrill of government (sort of) quickly wearing off, they will let their leaders know it in Liverpool.
Neil Clark, one of the The First Post's political commentators, argued last month that the Lib Dems cannot go on like this.
The party will inevitably split into two factions - the Orange Bookers, comfortable to partner the Tories in power, and the more left-wing faction, committed to the welfare state and more naturally attuned to partnering a Miliband-led Labour party in coalition (whichever brother it turns out to be).
It won't happen immediately, but the cracks will be showing in Liverpool. Party managers will find it very hard to stop what is billed as "an opportunity to question" the Lib Dem Cabinet ministers being seen by the disillusioned as an opportunity to give them hell.
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